Netanyahu admits Israeli jets struck targets inside Syria to hinder Iran
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted the Israeli military was behind a missile attack late on Friday near Damascus.
Israel has struck Iranian, Hezbollah and Syrian targets in the neighbouring state on dozens of occasions, although Tel Aviv rarely admits carrying out specific attacks.
“Only in the last 36 hours did the Air Force strike targets in Syria and we have proven that we will stop the settlement of Iran in Syria,” Mr Netanyahu said at a Cabinet meeting yesterday. “The accumulation of recent attacks shows that we’re more determined than ever to act against Iran in Syria, just as we promised.”
Syrian state media said the military’s air defences shot down Israeli missiles.
A Syrian war monitor in Britain said two areas hosting members of Iranian forces and Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah were targeted.
“We have operated with impressive success in thwarting Iran from establishing a military foothold in Syria ... the military has struck hundreds of times against Iranian and Hezbollah targets,” Mr Netanyahu said.
In February last year, Syrian anti-aircraft missiles downed an Israeli F-16 carrying out a raid over Damascus.
The jet crashed in northern Israel and both pilots ejected.
It was the first Israeli jet to be downed since 1982 and Hezbollah hailed it as the start of “a new strategic phase”.
Israel has until now generally refrained from commenting about the strikes for fear of triggering a reaction and being drawn into the fighting in Syria’s civil war.
Last September, Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz gave a rare insight into the country’s Syria campaign. He said the military had carried out more than 200 strikes in Syria over the preceding year and a half. It has been clear about preventing the build-up of Iranian proxy forces near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and the transfer of missiles and equipment to the Tehran-backed Hezbollah.
Many of the strikes have been in the area south of Damascus.
Only recently has Israel begun to speak publicly about thwarting the weapons shipments from Iran through Syria into Lebanon. Israel’s outgoing military chief, Lt Gen Gadi Eisenkot, did so at the weekend in various interviews.
In a New York Times interview published on Friday, Lt Gen Eisenkot – the man credited with leading Israel’s Syria campaign against Hezbollah and Iran – revealed the government approved his strategy in January 2017 to increase air strikes in Syria.
Last year alone, he said, Israel’s air force dropped 2,000 bombs in Syria.
Syrian soldiers hitch a lift on a tank being transported near the northern town of Manbij
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu